When I gave birth to my first child almost 10 years ago, none of my family seemed to understand my parenting choices. They were supportive and curious, and far more helpful than judgmental, but they noticed immediately that I was going to do things differently. I’ve always respected and appreciated the advice of my mom, nana, and tias, and always will, but I’m confident making my own choices for my children. As a millennial with a college degree and a penchant for research, I’ve taken a lot of my parenting cues from wellness culture. Well, specifically, white wellness culture.
That sounds bad. It just does, but for the most part, it has greatly benefited my children. At times, it’s made parenting more stressful for me, because I put so much pressure on myself to “get it right,” but now as a mom of two who is past the baby and toddler stage, I feel a lot of freedom thanks to the knowledge I’ve accumulated from books, blogs and even social media.
Those spaces have long been dominated by middle to middle-upper class white women, and while we’re certainly itching to see some serious progress in that area, had it not been for the exposure I had to those things, I think I’d be raising my children quite differently. I’ve never been one to simply do what’s been done before without exploring all of my options and fully informing and educating myself, and I’m no different when it comes to my kids.
I became convinced about breastfeeding my kids thanks to books and blogs written by white women. To my knowledge, no one in my family had ever done it, I had never seen it done, and had no idea of the many benefits, before I immersed myself in facts and advice I found in those white spaces. I later learned about homemade baby food and gentle parenting techniques on Instagram.
I learned that quarter waters weren’t a good substitute for well…actual water. I learned that there were safer, healthier cleaning products, skincare products and even supplements to use with my children. I learned that it’s okay to be the squeaky wheel when it comes to my kids’ educations and that sports and extra-curricular activities are a healthy outlet for their energy.
Here’s the thing, white wellness culture may be problematic as a whole — especially in how it relates to people of color — but, all of those things have felt really good and right for me and my husband as we raise our children. But at the same time, they sometimes feel almost completely divorced from my Puerto Rican culture and the way that I was raised. At times, I feel a lot of guilt about that. In some ways, it feels like I’m actually putting a barrier between me and my own children. Our childhood experiences are so different, that I often find it hard to relate to them on certain levels.
Don’t get me wrong, I make a very conscious effort to ensure that they know, feel and identify with our Latin culture, but it’s in the little things. Sometimes, it’ll dawn on me that they’ve never eaten Puerto Rican spaghetti with a side of white rice or that they’ve never ridden on the handlebars of a bike or run barefoot down the street to play in the fire hydrant, because I’ve learned that those things aren’t “healthy” or “safe,” and it makes me a little sad that they’ll probably never experience some of the things that I remember so vividly from my own childhood.
I’m raising them so that they’ll hopefully have more than I did growing up and live a long time to enjoy it, but still, it’s bittersweet. My husband and I have worked incredibly hard to get where we are today — and still have a long way to go — but there’s definitely a cost to all of the education, information, and social progress, and I don’t mean a monetary one.
Today, I’m finding a balance because while I’m proud of the decisions that I’ve made for the betterment of the next generation and the ones that will come after them, I realize that not everything has to be to the extreme. It’s okay for them to taste Tampico fruit punch at a family party, get slathered in Vicks every time they’re sick, eat store brand bread when it’s the only thing on sale, and stay up late every once in a while so we don’t have to leave their tio’s house early to make it back for bedtime.
It’s also okay that I chose not to bottle feed and that I set routines for them when they were infants. It’s okay that I buy mostly organic food at home and don’t let them overindulge on sugar, and it’s definitely a good thing that I take them for long hikes and teach them about yoga and meditation.
Now that my kids are almost 10 and six, I’m doing my best not to feel guilty or ashamed of either side of my parenting influences.
I value and honor both, and expect anyone in our lives to respect that we can do and be one and both on this journey of raising kids. People still look at me funny sometimes when I say they can’t have more than one juice box or that, “no thanks, we won’t use that extra bottle of highly toxic bubble bath you have,” and others’ jaws drop when I don’t change the channel because a reggaeton video comes on or that, gasp…we sometimes eat rice, beans, and plátano for dinner with nary a green vegetable in sight.
One way of doing things is never all good or all bad. It’s about taking the good and leaving the bad while staying completely true to who you are.